The good, the bad and the ugly.
StarDrive, developed by Zero Sum Games and published by Iceberg Interactive, manages to combine all of the ingredients of a space 4X strategy title into a game with poetic space bears and slaver molluscs. Doesn’t that sound like a universe that you would want to rule over?
The objective of the game is global domination and to that purpose the player must first choose one of the eight races to play as. There is the chance to customise the races as the player sees fit, but any advantage will be quickly countered by racial flaws, so it really is a matter of personal preference over any possibility of creating a superior race.
The eight races available are suitably varied and well fleshed out, consisting of the standard humans and a collection of more colorful races that may prove to be fun to play as – space wolves, space bears, molluscs, machines, plants, a sneaky race of humanoids, and some religious Cthulhu race. The art work behind these races is nice and a lot of thought has obviously gone into building their stories.
The only problem comes from the fact that, although each of the races are different and will act differently when controlled by the AI, playing each of these races is essentially the same. The approach may be slightly different, but the outcome will be the same.
This is mostly due to the games rather limited winning conditions. The player will be working towards either completely annihilating all of the other races, or bringing them into an alliance under their control. It doesn’t matter if you are controlling the highly aggressive race of space wolves or the honorable, poetry-loving space bears – the end game will always be the same.
Arriving at that end game will involve colonizing planets like they are going out of fashion. Fortunately the micro management can be as deep or as light as you want it, which is especially handy as the player gains control of more and more planets. As an example of the planetary management, balancing the population of a planet with the available food on that planet is important, but importing food from other planets with an excess is possible. When it comes to building on the planets, each is different in how much can be squeezed onto the habitable areas, making some planets more favorable for colonization than others.
If only the player had only to worry about colonizing planets, but there are the other races to also be concerned with. The number of opposing factions can be chosen at the start of the game, but however many there are, the player can rest assured that they will aggressively begin colonizing planets and working towards the end game. The AI is quite capable in StarDrive, and won’t suffer from any of the early stumbling around the games mechanics. To that end, StarDrive does include a tutorial of sorts, although the splash screen explanation of how to play the game does leave a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to the complexities of combat and ship creation.
Ship creation in StarDrive will be the saving grace for some, and a waste of time for others. The game allows the player to build and customise their fleet as they see fit, right down to placing the different components of a ship as they wish the design blueprint. The available slots are represented by a grid and which has to be filled with components such as a power source, weapons or shielding. There are certain unexplained rules to what can be placed where, and of course depending on what the player has researched, and stats are available to show the effects of the players’ tinkering. Mistakes will be evident once the player actually takes the ship out, and the ships can be refit if they are not performing exactly how they were expected to, at a price. The ship creation is quite deep and for gamers who like this sort of thing, the lack of feedback when designing a spacecraft will not really be a problem.
The fleet management is equally as deep and laying out your fleet for battle is fairly straight forward, even if it doesn’t always work the way it should. The actual space combat itself is RTS in nature and enjoyable once it gets going. The tech trees are small but intuitive, and diplomacy in the game works on a limited scale.
The truth is that StarDrive is a mixed bag when it comes to the various different components that make up the game. Some work, some not so much, with much of the game seeming to be incomplete. The game feels unfinished at the moment, but has the potential to be something quite special – it is just going to take some time and some hefty patches. Fans of the genre could do far worse than to jump into StarDrive right now, but waiting will undoubtedly result in a far better game.